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263. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Huang Hua, PRC Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Mrs. Shih Yen-hua, Interpreter
  • Mr. Kuo, Notetaker
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff

(While waiting for Dr. Kissinger, the Chinese party and Mr. Lord engaged in amiable small talk. Topics covered included the General Assembly session at the United Nations which the Ambassador called quieter and duller than the previous year; the social demands on the Ambassador; the families of Mrs. Shih and Mr. Kuo; and the various Chinese groups that were visiting or were about to visit the United States. This lasted for 20 minutes until Dr. Kissinger arrived and the meeting began.)

Dr. Kissinger: I am sorry to keep you waiting. They never take into account New York traffic. My apologies.

[Page 1107]

I wanted to see you because I am going away tomorrow and because we noticed some of the references in the Chinese press to the present state of affairs and also some of the adjectives that were used in relation to our action which did not meet our full agreement. So we wanted to take this opportunity to tell you once more what our policy is so that if there should be a strain in our relationship we will know exactly the reasons and this strain is not caused by misunderstanding.

First, we admit that we made a mistake in accepting too optimistic a time schedule. We did that in good faith and with every intent of maintaining it. If we had wanted to delay we could have found innumerable excuses for delay in going through the text. We wanted to make a rapid settlement so we took a chance. It’s one thing to say it was a mistake. It’s another thing to assume that there was “foul play” and “crooked dealings.”

Now we also believe that the North Vietnamese side contributed to the present impasse, but I don’t see much sense in going through that list again. (Ambassador Huang interrupted the translation, and there was clarification of the word “impasse.” Dr. Kissinger said, “difficulties”.)

I want to read you two statements I made on October 17 when I saw them last so that you can see that I warned them. When I left Minister Xuan Thuy I said: (reading almost verbatim from the excerpt from the transcript) “Well there are two problems. I will have to consult the President, and I will have to see what the possibilities are in Saigon. Our most important objective now is to settle this war, the quicker the better. We maintain every agreement we have made here. We should not tie ourselves to one particular time schedule. I am certain that if we cannot do it this week we will settle it in a matter of weeks.” (Ambassador Huang again helps with the translation.)

And there was another statement I read to him. This was on October 17. (Again reading from the transcript excerpt.) “We had agreed to the schedule—which was perhaps unwise because of the impatience to make peace. We maintain our offer to finish the document in the most rapid time possible and to meet the Special Advisor in some neutral place to complete the document. We are not talking of the delay of a long time. We are talking about a brief delay. It is not unreasonable to want to discuss with our allies the making of the peace, to get an agreed document.”

But we are not engaged in trying a legal case. We are engaged in a very practical problem now. The North Vietnamese believe that we have done all of this as a trick to maneuver with Thieu to gain time until after the election. And they are afraid that if we come to another meeting we will overthrow the whole agreement. Our intention is exactly the opposite. It is one thing for us not to insist on the present [Page 1108]agreement, which our ally had never seen, in a period of three days. It is another to insist on an agreement which follows a procedure which we can morally justify. (Dr. Kissinger pours tea for the Ambassador.)

After November 7 we will have freedom of action, not against Hanoi because we have that now, but against Saigon. On the other hand, the changes we are seeking, it is not correct to say that we are making Saigon changes our own. We have accepted maybe 10 percent of their proposals and none of their most important ones.

There are four changes of substance that we want in the agreement. There may be eight other technical ones, but they are unimportant and won’t be crucial. The four substantive ones are as follows.

  • First, we want the section on ceasefire to be independent of other provisions of the agreement. This is now implied. We want to have it stated explicitly. (Mr. Kuo indicated he didn’t fully understand.) This agreement is in chapters. There is a chapter on ceasefire, and we want the chapter on ceasefire unconditional and not related to other provisions of the agreement. This is now implied. We want it explicit. This works both ways. It means we cannot use the excuse of other sections to come back in.
  • Second, in the section on political conditions, in paragraph 9(f), the word “administrative structure” was given to us by the Vietnamese in English. It is not our translation. We want them to use the Vietnamese term that uses the word “administrative” as we understand it. We would never have accepted their word. That was an unresolved issue.

And paragraph 9(g) of the agreement …2

Mrs. Shih: 9(g)?

Dr. Kissinger: Also in paragraph 9(f) we want to put in a sentence that says that the members of the Council are appointed by the two parties. This is now an understanding. We want it as an explicit provision. They agree with this. It’s just an understanding now. I’m giving you only the important changes.

In paragraph 9(h) there is now a provision that the two sides should demobilize some forces. We want to add a sentence that these forces are to be demobilized on the basis of equality of the two sides and that the demobilized forces should return to their homes.

In another section on the reunification of Vietnam, where we mention a number of paragraphs of the Geneva Agreements3 that are applicable [Page 1109], we also want to mention Article 24 which is against military pressures of one side against the other. It is now there in language. We just want to say “consistent with Article 24.”

The only other thing we want … there are two other things. One is that the international inspection machinery to which they have already agreed should operate on the day that the agreement is signed. This just requires the signing of a protocol which is not in dispute.

And secondly, a position that we have never given up; that is, outside the agreement prior to the signing, North Vietnam should withdraw some of their troops from South Vietnam. After all, it is not easy to tell an ally that its neighbor has the right to keep its entire field army on its territory. What we want is the withdrawal of a few divisions in the northernmost part of the country.

If these conditions are met there are a number of technical changes that are really not important or substantive. They are almost entirely a question of form, such as turning the agreement into a four-party agreement. But they would bring about sufficient changes so that we could have discharged our obligations toward our ally. In these circumstances we would take a very flexible view on the proposal of simultaneous ceasefires in Laos and Cambodia. This is the framework now.

The situation is getting very serious on two levels. One, by the constant repeating of the same charges the North Vietnamese are making it a matter of prestige. And to the extent the Chinese side repeats these charges this will in time affect our relations which as you know have been one of the central elements of our foreign policy.

And we simply wanted you to know that we genuinely want to make an agreement with the Vietnamese. We would like to do so as soon after the election as possible. We have no interest in humiliating the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. On the contrary, we would like to normalize our relations to prevent other big countries further away from having a foothold. We are prepared to help reconstruct the DRV. We consider this present misunderstanding as an interlude.

We are embarrassed by some of the things that have happened; and we will move with great determination to bring about peace within the framework already agreed. If we are pushed against the wall, we will have to resist, and then we will resist immediately and decisively.

I wanted to assure the Prime Minister, and we will assure the North Vietnamese, that after the election we will return to making peace. We have no interest in stepping up the war unless absolutely forced to do so. We want peace. We maintain the essential agreement. We need some assistance. We are caught in a dilemma between our honor and our intention. There is no sense trying to force us into acting dishonorably. Our interest is to normalize relations in Indochina and to accelerate dramatically the normalization of our relations with the [Page 1110]People’s Republic, and we know the two are linked. (Mr. Kuo indicated he didn’t fully understand.) We know the two are related.

This is nothing new. I have told you only what we said before. I wanted to say it personally because I believe you know how interested I am in relations with the People’s Republic and how much we would like to accelerate that. And now that we are heading into a new term we don’t want to have to begin it with a war in Vietnam and with disagreements between us. I am saying this in a spirit of understanding, not in a spirit of criticism. I know you have no instructions to reply to me.

Ambassador Huang: We are prepared to convey the message.

Dr. Kissinger: Thank you.

Ambassador Huang: The attitude of the Chinese side has been stated in the recent two messages.

Dr. Kissinger: I know.

Ambassador Huang: And the Chinese government has also issued a statement on the situation.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s what I was talking about.

Ambassador Huang: And apart from this I have nothing to add.4

Dr. Kissinger: I have one other thing I wanted to inform you of, which concerns Taiwan. As the result of a number of developments we have borrowed from the Taiwanese some airplanes that we have given them, F–5A’s.5 And while we are borrowing these planes we have put two American squadrons of F–4’s on Taiwan. These are only temporary, and they will be removed as soon as we can replace the airplanes that we have borrowed. I again wanted to inform your government that all the understandings that we have with respect to Taiwan will be rigorously carried out as soon as the war in Vietnam is concluded.

[Page 1111]

(Mrs. Shih has some difficulties translating “F–5A’s” and Ambassador Huang helps her.)

There are 36 airplanes. But we will be removing within the next few weeks other American planes put there. We will give you the details. We will let you know. They have to do with the war in Indochina and will be removed in the next few weeks. They are related to the war in Indochina, and they will be removed regardless of the peace negotiations. We will let you have a list of those planes.

We will do our utmost to conclude a Vietnam settlement by December 1. That is really all I wanted to see you about.

You must know the reason I didn’t meet the Vietnamese [November 4–November 9]6 is that I long since promised to accompany the President who is leaving tomorrow for the West Coast. I have avoided participating in the campaign but I must do something in the last three days. This is the reason. This is simply for the information of Peking, because you had referred to it in your last message.

(While the Chinese were waiting for the car Mr. Lord reminded Dr. Kissinger of the new communications set-up. Dr. Kissinger then explained to the Chinese that we have set up a new system in which we can send a message to deliver and pick up messages from the Chinese Mission, and they would be put in a teletype code which can only be read by us. This would be faster and save time. If the Chinese would call us we would send somebody to pick up the message. He was talking about messages that did not require a personal communication. Mr. Lord pointed out that the couriers would be people with whom the Chinese are already familiar. Ambassador Huang said it would be helpful if they were told the name of the messengers. Dr. Kissinger said this would be done in each case. He added that, of course, any time that the Ambassador wanted to see him personally he would come up for that. Ambassador Huang indicated agreement with the new system. There was then brief small talk until the car arrived and the Chinese departed.)

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 850, President’s File—China Trip, China Exchanges. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Attached but not printed were Kissinger’s talking points.
  2. All ellipses are in the source text. Apparent reference to a draft of what would become the Paris Peace Accords on Vietnam.
  3. The text of the Geneva Agreements of 1954 is in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. XVI, Part 2, pp. 1505–1520.
  4. On November 14 Kissinger discussed with the President the previous evening’s dinner with Rockefeller, Ch’iao Kuan-hua, and Huang Hua in New York. Kissinger observed, “Then they talked about Vietnam and said of course we won’t interfere and we are in favor of a quick settlement without the humiliation of either side, and we’ll use our influence in that direction. And it’s the softest I’ve ever heard them on Vietnam, no particular support for the North Vietnamese.” Kissinger added, “They as much as said they would use their influence to keep things quiet in Cambodia.” Kissinger also noted that he emphasized to the Chinese that “we may have to make some tough decisions in resisting hegemony around the world in the next four years. And it cannot be in anybody’s interest that the United States is put into a difficult position in Southeast Asia after the war ends.” Nixon replied: “As a matter of fact, sucked into a peripheral war anyplace, Henry, that’s the real thing, Africa or anyplace.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, November 14, 1972, 9:00–9:36 p.m., Camp David Study Table, Conversation No. 153–5)
  5. See Documents 256 and 264.
  6. Brackets in the source text.